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Freezing rain threatens winter festival

More mild weather in Ottawa has brought freezing rain and worries about driving, flying and the city's annual frosty carnival Winterlude.

Rideau Canal Skateway closed temporarily due to weather

The fear of freezing rain had police on high alert but there were fewer crashes than night before. 2:03

Freezing rain and warm temperatures are sparking worries about Ottawa prime cold weather tourist attraction, Winterlude.

When the annual festival launches on Friday, Winterlude will be celebrating its 35th season. But over the years festival organizers have learned valuable lessons on how to roll with Mother Nature's punches.

The Rideau Canal Skateway is the most popular Winterlude attraction and to protect it from Tuesday's onslaught of freezing rain and unusually warm weather expected on Wednesday, the National Capital Commission is closing the canal temporarily.

Denise Leblanc of the NCC said the closure is in the best interests of the canal's skateway and its skaters.

"Just to minimize the impact on the ice and for people's personal safety, that is our number one concern," Leblanc said. "What we don't want are people slipping and sliding and the water can sometimes hide ice conditions."

At Confederation Park Tuesday, ice sculptors were rushing to finish their creations before the freezing rain arrived.

Artists such as Manoj Khorugdharry have spent upward of 20 hours on showpieces. While they'd like another day to etch out details, on Tuesday they were in a race against time. 

Ice carvers hurried to finish this polar bear, which will be covered with a thermal blanket to protect it from the warm temperatures and freezing rain.

"We are working faster than you can think, doing our best in the cold to try our best just to finish it," Khorugdharry said.

A thermal cloth will be draped over his polar bear sculpture to protect it, and other blocks of ice to be used for the International Ice Carving Contest — normally chilled outdoors — have been moved into a refrigerator truck to prevent them from melting.

Thanks in part to last week's deep freeze, organizers of the Snowflake Kingdom at Jacques Cartier Park say they expect the giant array of ice slides to hold up.

The bitter cold was giving Marcelo Lemy's family, who are visiting from Sao Paolo, Brazil, the experience of a lifetime sooner than expected.

With just a few days left in their holiday to Ottawa, after hearing of the canal closure, the Lemys decided to get their Skateway experience in Tuesday so as not to miss out.

So how was their skate?

"It wasn't skating at all, it was trying not to fall. I think I accomplished that," he said. "But this is great, it's snowing and my kids never saw snow before."

Though the winter experience is exciting for the Lemys, it's a challenge for city workers.

Kevin Wylie, the city's manager of roads, said crews began salting Tuesday afternoon but the freezing rain would mean that effort would continue into Wednesday for the early rush hour traffic.